No matter how many times Cleveland Heights senior running back Braxton Gamble smashed into the end zone against Lorain on Friday night, one could sense a certain futility lurking just below the surface.
Gamble had five rushing touchdowns to punctuate the Tigers’ 41-13 victory and raise their record to an impressive 7-2 and 4-2 in the Lake Erie League, but the latest playoff projections have Cleveland Heights falling two spots short of the postseason with virtually no chance of moving up.
A year after posting a perfect regular season, the feeling coming into this homecoming game was decidedly more subdued with fewer celebrities, more rain and a sparser crowd.
Gamble splintered the defense of the Titans (2-7, 2-4 LEL) with three touchdown runs of 2 yards and two of 1 and 4 yards.
Yes, things have really changed this year, but Gamble is not deterred in his quest for the final playoff spot in Division I, Region 1. If he’s got to cling to hope, then cling he shall.
“We keep being told that we’ve got somewhat of a shot. So we’re not helpless until somebody tells us that we’ve got no shot no more,” Gamble said. “I don’t think we’re helpless at all.”
Tigers coach Jeff Rotsky said the team’s chances at making the playoffs dimmed significantly after its 34-28 loss at Warren G. Harding last week. While the team needs help to reach the playoffs, Rotsky is keeping his team’s focus on the game in front of them. Next week, that’ll be against visiting Shaw.
“We’re playing desperate like we’re in the desert with no food and water,” Rotsky said. “We put ourselves in this position and that’s the way it is.”
After Friday’s games, Joe Eitel’s unofficial rankings have Willoughby South, St. Edward, St. Ignatius, North Royalton, Warren G. Harding and Mentor clinching the top six playoff spots. Austintown-Fitch now controls its own destiny, essentially leaving one spot open.
Cleveland Heights is 10th behind North Olmsted and Euclid. The Tigers lost at home to Euclid, 34-12, on Sept. 18. North Olmsted travels to Olmsted Falls (1-8), and Euclid hosts Warrensville Heights (3-9). The Tigers will likely need both teams to lose, but that’s considered highly unlikely.
Nonetheless, the Tigers showed some impressive flashes of ability Friday night.
The Tigers marched the opening kickoff right down the field in eight plays for a quick 6-0 lead on a Gamble 1-yard run. Gamble scored on 2- and 4-yard runs to give the Tigers a 19-0 lead.
Lorain’s Carlos Sanchez responded immediately with 15-yard run, the first of two touchdowns he would score on the evening.
But as the half was closing, Shelton Gibson scooped up a Lorain punt at the Tigers’ 36 and niftily returned it to the Titans’ 21 with 20.9 seconds remaining in the first half. On the next play, Tigers quarterback Taylor Jones found Marcus McShepard wide open down the left sideline for a 26-7 lead.
Sanchez would post a 1-yard TD run to draw the Titans to 26-13 at 4:43 of the third quarter, but Braxton had runs of 1 and 2 yards to put the game out of reach.
The game against Shaw is set for 7 p.m.
Lorain 0 7 6 0 13
Cleveland Heights 12 14 8 7 41
Cleveland Heights - Gamble 1 run (kick failed)
Cleveland Heights - Gamble 2 run (pass failed)
Cleveland Heights - Gamble 4 run (Pewu kick)
Lorain – Sanchez 15 run (Morgan kick)
Cleveland Heights - McShepard 21 pass from Jones (Pewu kick)
Lorain – Sanchez 1 run (pass failed)
Cleveland Heights - Gamble 2 run (Hudson from Jones)
Cleveland Heights - Gamble 2 run (Pewu kick)